Economy

Swine flu taking toll on Texas pork producers

After a money-losing 2008, Texas pork producers had been expecting an improved market.

Then swine flu hit this month, damaging consumer confidence and prompting bans by 10 nations, all while meat prices slid five straight days on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Adding insult to real injury, the U.S. Agriculture Department until Tuesday had refused to follow the lead of the World Organisation for Animal Health, a U.N. agency that calls the illness "North American influenza," says Ken Horton, executive vice president of the Texas Pork Producers Association in Austin.

"It's not helping our business in any way," Horton said of the widespread use of the name swine flu. "We'd prefer if they gave it a more accurate term. I was slightly disappointed. There's German measles, and I'm sure the Germans hated to have that."

At a Tuesday news conference, however, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acquiesced and began calling it H1N1 human influenza. But much damage has already been done, and it's unclear whether Vilsack's compromise term will be picked up widely.

Horton, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the USDA, notes that humans cannot get the new, mixed-origin flu strain simply by eating pork. Moreover, no pig has been found to harbor the strain.

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